Virginia

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

Every year, Virginia is the first state out of the gate with their preliminary healthcare premium rate changes for the following year, posting the initial rate requests in early May. For 2019, it originally looked like the carriers were asking for a statewide average increase of 15.2%, but I later corrected this to 13.4%.

However, these were just preliminary numbers. The requests still have to go through the rate review process, and the carriers often make other changes as well before the final deadlines pass.

Several weeks ago I wrote about a bit of a bombshell development in Virginia:

Members of local advocacy group Charlottesville For Reasonable Health Insurance had provided testimony at the Virginia General Assembly and organized an email campaign, helping to ensure passage of the bill through the legislative session. Introduced by Sen. Creigh Deeds and effective July 1 2018, SB672 will allow self-employed people to take advantage of the much more affordable health plans in the small group business marketplace, without having to hire employees.

...Charlottesville and surrounding counties (Albemarle, Green, Fluvanna) have by far the most expensive healthcare premiums in the nation in 2018. Rates more than tripled for consumers buying coverage on the ACA Individual Exchange, making comprehensive insurance unaffordable for people who do not qualify for subsidy assistance. A typical family of four is being charged $3000 per month for high deductible plans.

Apparently it still has to be kicked back to the state Assembly for a final vote, but it appears to be a done deal at last:

The Virginia Senate just passed Medicaid expansion, which three Republicans joining all 19 Democrats voting in favor. The House, which already passed expansion, has to vote again. We'll have more later, but here's the backstory. https://t.co/ldFEb5vYyt

— Jeffrey Young (@JeffYoung) May 30, 2018

There's one downer, of course:

Elections have consequences: To get enough GOP votes, this Medicaid expansion includes a work requirement and premiums above the poverty line, which will cut into coverage gains. Virginia must continue the fight.

— Topher Spiro (@TopherSpiro) May 30, 2018

Two big developments (or in one case, a lack of development) out of Virginia this evening.

First: Just yesterday I was noting that it looked as though after 8 years, Virginia's state legislature might finally be going ahead and expanding Medicaid under the ACA as soon as today:

The stage is set for a showdown in the Virginia Senate on Tuesday over a budget compromise negotiated by Senate Finance Co-Chairman Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, and House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, to expand the state’s Medicaid program and pay for the state’s share through a new tax on hospital revenues that also would boost Medicaid payments for inpatient provider care.

Unfortunately...that didn't happen:

Governor Northam Statement on Virginia Senate Budget Process

Several stories like this throughout Monday afternoon/evening (via Michael Martz of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The stage is set for a showdown in the Virginia Senate on Tuesday over a budget compromise negotiated by Senate Finance Co-Chairman Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, and House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, to expand the state’s Medicaid program and pay for the state’s share through a new tax on hospital revenues that also would boost Medicaid payments for inpatient provider care.

(The article goes into all the other non-Medicaid related stuff in the budget as well, of course, although some of it is obviously healthcare-related.)

Having a doctor holding elected office is kind of hit or miss (former HHS Secretary Tom "Fly Me!" Price was an orthopedic surgeon, for instance, while Rand "Kneel before Aqua Buddha!" Paul is supposedly a "self-certified" opthamologist), but once in awhile it can be a very good thing.

Case in point: Ralph Northam, the new Governor of Virginia, a former Army doctor and pediatric neurologist, who just formally vetoed not one, not two, but four different GOP-passed healthcare bills, each of which would have further weakened and damaged the ACA individual market risk pool:

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today vetoed Senate Bills 844, 934, 935, and 964, which would put Virginians at risk of being underinsured, result in rapidly increasing Marketplace premiums, and undermine key protections in the Affordable Care Act. Governor Northam remains committed to expanding health care for nearly 400,000 uninsured Virginians, return millions to the state budget, and reduce Marketplace premiums. The Governor’s full veto statements are below.

Holy smokes. A huge shout-out to Esther F. for the heads up on this. I have no idea how this story slipped under my radar the past few months:

Northam signs healthcare bill to provide relief to Virginia entrepreneurs
Published Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2018, 12:42 pm

Gov. Ralph Northam signed a new healthcare bill into law that will provide relief to many small business owners currently struggling with the Central Virginia insurance premium crisis.

Members of local advocacy group Charlottesville For Reasonable Health Insurance had provided testimony at the Virginia General Assembly and organized an email campaign, helping to ensure passage of the bill through the legislative session. Introduced by Sen. Creigh Deeds and effective July 1 2018, SB672 will allow self-employed people to take advantage of the much more affordable health plans in the small group business marketplace, without having to hire employees.

A couple of days ago, I posted that Virginia has become the first state out of the gate with their preliminary 2019 premium rate requests for ACA individual policies. However, I made sure to emphasize that these are preliminary requests only; carriers often resubmit their rate change requests more than once over the course of the summer/fall, and even that may not match whatever the final, approved rate changes are by the state insurance commissioner.

In addition, I generally try to make it understood that there's alotof room for error here--the weighted averages are based on the number of current enrollees, but of course that number can change from month to month as people drop policies or sign up during the off-season (via Special Enrollment Periods). Even then, the rate filing paperwork is often vague or confusing about just how many enrollees they actually have in these plans. Sometimes wonks are reduced to taking the number of "member months" and dividing by 12 to get a rough idea of how many people are enrolled in any given month. Sometimes the only number of enrollees available are from last year, which could bear zero resemblence to how many are currently enrolled. Sometimes the only number available is how many people the carrier expects to enroll in their policies next year. And so on.

...and to absolutely no one's surprise, GOP sabotage of the ACA will be directly responsible for a significant chunk of the individual market premium increases.

Every year for 3 years running, I've spent the entire spring/summer/early fall painstakingly tracking every insurance carrier rate filing for the following year to determine just how much average insurance policy premiums on the individual market are going to increase (or, in a few rare instances, actually decrease).

The actual work is difficult due to the ever-changing landscape as carriers jump in and out of the market, their tendency repeatedly revise their requests, and the confusing blizzard of actual filing forms which sometimes make it easy to find the specific data I need and sometimes make it next to impossible.

What the heck, I'll make this Medicaid Expansion News Day:

Virginia’s Republican-led legislature is on the verge of doing something that would’ve been almost unthinkable just a year ago: approving legislation that would use money from the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to as many as 400,000 people.

That coverage expansion would come at a price for Democratic legislators, progressive activists and low-income Virginians, however. Any Medicaid expansion bill that makes it out of the General Assembly will carry with it new work requirements for Medicaid enrollees, a priority for the GOP at large and for President Donald Trump’s administration.

Democrats in the Virginia legislature have tried in vain for six years to persuade their GOP counterparts that accepting federal dollars to extend Medicaid coverage to poor adults is the right thing to do. Accepting a work-requirements policy that would create bureaucratic obstacles to eligible Virginians appears to be the compromise needed to win the bigger fight.

OK, I'm just seeing this now so I could be seriously misreading the article, but if I'm not, this is quite the eye-opener:

Virginia is on the cusp of expanding Medicaid to 400,000 low-income residents, after a veteran Republican state senator said Friday that he is willing to split with his party and help Democrats realize a goal they have been chasing for years.

Virginia state Sen. Frank Wagner (Virginia Beach) said he supports allowing more poor people to enroll in the federal-state healthcare program on two conditions.

He wants the plan structured so that Medicaid recipients do not suddenly lose coverage if their earnings rise. And he wants a tax credit or some other help for middle-income people who already have insurance but are struggling to pay soaring premiums and co-pays.

Last November, along with voting to keep a Democrat in the Governor's office, Virginia voters also swept a huge wave of Democrats into office in the state legislature. They didn’t quite take a majority, but they came within a single vote of getting a 50-50 tie in the state Assembly. Instead, they have a two-vote shortfall (51-49), matching the same two-vote shortfall (21-19) in the state Senate.

New Governor Ralph Northam has solidly promised to finally push through ACA Medicaid expansion for 400,000 Virginians, but those two-vote margins have made doing so incredibly frustrating. Fortunately, it looks like the dam may have finally been broken:

A prominent Republican state legislator from southwest Virginia announced his support Thursday for expanding Medicaid, an about-face that could make it easier for other rural conservatives to get on board after four years of steadfast opposition.

*(OK, Maine is a lock...except that GOP Gov. LePage is apparently still being an utter jackass about implementing it, while Virginia is still kind of iffy...see below...)

UPDATE 11/8/17: Maine voters approve Medicaid expansion

Maine voters on Tuesday decided to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, becoming the first state to do so through a referendum.

Support for the ballot measure was up by more than 18 points with 64 percent of precincts reporting about 10 p.m. when it was called by NBC affiliate WCSH and The Associated Press.

The results in Maine, one of 19 states that rejected Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, comes as other Republican-led states like Utah and Idaho eye similar ballot measures.

Advocates of Medicaid expansion in Maine successfully petitioned the state to include a question on this year’s ballot following several failed legislative efforts to expand the program.

Up until a week ago, the possibility of Donald Trump pulling the plug on Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments was a looming threat every day. While it hadn't actually happened yet, most of the state insurance commissioners and/or insurance carriers themselves saw the potential writing on the wall and priced their 2018 premiums accordingly (or at the very least prepared two different sets of rate filings to cover either contingency).

A few spread the extra CSR load across all policies, both on and off the exchange. This seems like the "fairest" way of handling things on the surface, but is actually the worst way to do so, because it hurts all unsubsidized enrollees no matter what they choose for 2018 and can even make things slightly worse for some subsidized enrollees in Gold or Platinum plans.

(sigh) When I last checked in on Virginia, things were looking up a bit (relatively speaking), as Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield (aka "HealthKeepers") had announced that they were jumping back into the state in order to cover the 60-odd counties which would otherwise be left bare by Optima Health Insurance dropping out of half the state a week or so earlier.

Unfortunately, while this did resolve the "bare county" problem for VA, it didn't resolve the other big problem: Major rate hikes for unsubsidized individual market enrollees:

As many see their options for health plans dwindle down to one insurer, premiums are simultaneously set to rise by an average of 57.7 percent next year in Virginia’s individual marketplace.

The increase is “unquestionably the highest we’ve ever seen,” David Shea, health actuary with Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance, told lawmakers Monday.

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